You Need To Stop Dating People For Their “Potential”—Here’s Why

We’ve all heard someone refer to a partner as a “fixer-upper” or know someone who dated a guy because he “had the potential to be great.” There’s an optimism that people, but women especially, tend to bring to relationships that a partner can improve over time. However, this can actually have very negative impacts.

Here’s why you need to stop dating people for their “potential.”

What Exactly Do We Mean?

man and woman holding hands on dinner date
Photo Credit: Unsplash / Rene Ranisch
Photo Credit: Unsplash / Rene Ranisch

Dating someone for their potential means that you notice some unlikeable characteristics about a partner—they’re disorganized and messy, they’re bad at communicating, they’re broke with no ambition—but you hope that, in dating them, they will change for the better.

Why Do People Do This?

man and woman starring lovingly at each other
Photo Credit: Unsplash
Photo Credit: Unsplash

Let’s be real: as much as we want to find a person who is a perfect match for us, anyone who has been on the dating scene knows how hard that is. Sometimes, when we meet someone who we see as having “potential” to be a good partner, we try to make things work.

We Can’t Deny There Is A Gendered Difference In This

tweet: women don't get enough credit for their imagination. Who else is going to see that much potential in a guy who puts his mattress on the floor
Photo Credit: Twitter / @itslaurentbtw
Photo Credit: Twitter / @itslaurentbtw

Let’s be honest: women are much more likely to date a man for his “potential” than the opposite happening. It could possibly be because women are often socialized to be caretakers, but it’s important to note how societally this idea has been normalized.

The Media Doesn’t Help

still of Zach Braff and Natalie Portman in Garden State
Photo Credit: moviestillsdb / Fox Searchlight
Photo Credit: moviestillsdb / Fox Searchlight

There are so many movies and shows where a female love interest is instrumental in helping a guy change for the better—she makes him more positive, helps him dress better, and inspires him to pursue his passions.

It’s One Of The Most Common Cultural Narratives

still of danny and sandy in a car from grease
Photo Credit: moviestillsdb / Paramount
Photo Credit: moviestillsdb / Paramount

The narrative is as old as time, with roots in the “bad boy” trope that’s pervasive in romantic stories aimed towards women. The idea of dating the bad boy who changes to be specifically good to you because he “deep down has a heart of gold” places a romantic emphasis on a man’s “potential to be better.”

This Idea Is Also Prevelant In “Makeover Transformation” Films

still from
Photo Credit: moviestillsdb / Miramax
Photo Credit: moviestillsdb / Miramax

In the media, the man with potential changes to be more mature and caring for their partner—most of his transformation is internal. In contrast, films depicting women with potential tend to have the women alter their physical appearances to fit more with conventional beauty standards.

The Danger Is In Its Falsehood

man and woman looking upset in restaurant
Photo Credit: Pexels / cottonbro
Photo Credit: Pexels / cottonbro

The problem with the notion of someone’s “potential” in relationships is that there is no guarantee that they’ll ever reach it. In fact, more often than not, a partner will not change or improve themselves drastically for your benefit.

The Intent Doesn’t Always Mean There’s A Good Impact

man and woman making eye contact and linking arms while drinking wine
Photo Credit: Unsplash / Szabo Viktor
Photo Credit: Unsplash / Szabo Viktor

While dating someone because you see potential in them stems from a tendency to see the best in people (even if they don’t see it themselves), there can be genuinely negative impacts on both parties.

In Fact, It Can Have The Opposite Effect

woman embracing man from behind as he looks at camera
Photo Credit: Unsplash / Logan Weaver
Photo Credit: Unsplash / Logan Weaver

If you start dating someone who is not quite up to the standards you want, they might get the perception that the way they are is fine for you—I mean, you started dating them while they were that specific way in the beginning.

You Can End Up In Bad Relationships

woman leaning into man who looks indifferent
Photo Credit: Pexels / Gabby K
Photo Credit: Pexels / Gabby K

If you focus on a romanticized “potential” version of a partner, you are likely to end up in a relationship with someone who might not meet your emotional or physical needs.

It’s A Savior Complex Problem

man kissing woman's head
Photo Credit: Unsplash / Allef Vinicius
Photo Credit: Unsplash / Allef Vinicius

The problem with being a “fixer” is that sometimes your desires to change a partner are more rooted in the personal satisfaction and positive feelings you get from helping them. It becomes, in turn, a selfish act.

It Puts Unfair Pressure On That Person

standard pressure gauge
Photo Credit: Unsplash / Crystal Kwok
Photo Credit: Unsplash / Crystal Kwok

Even though you see a certain “potential” in someone, it does not mean their vision for themselves matches yours. It’s unfair to date someone expecting them to change without really considering that they don’t want to change in the first place.

It’s Emotionally Damaging For The Other Person

woman looking down, sad
Photo Credit: Unsplash / Motoki Tonn
Photo Credit: Unsplash / Motoki Tonn

When you date someone for their potential, they then have to feel the pressure to improve and, at times, can end up feeling negatively about themselves if they don’t live up to your expectations for them.

People Are Not Projects

man and woman close on couch
Photo Credit: Unsplash / Mathilde Langevin
Photo Credit: Unsplash / Mathilde Langevin

A person is not like a house with potential where you can tear down a couple of walls, renovate the kitchen, and slap a new coat of paint on and call it a day. Treating people like something that needs to be “improved upon” can be incredibly shortsighted.

It’s Inherently Self-Centered

woman standing in street with arms crossed
Photo Credit: Unsplash / Raychan
Photo Credit: Unsplash / Raychan

Dating someone because you see potential in them is, at the root of it, about wanting someone to fit your needs and your vision for a good partner. Does this person really have “potential” or are you simply tired of dating people who don’t measure up?

It’s Really Just Not Going To Work For Anyone

couple sitting across from each other at table
Photo Credit: Pexels / Amina Filkins
Photo Credit: Pexels / Amina Filkins

At the end of the day, you can’t force someone to be ready for a relationship that lives up to your personal standards, despite your best efforts to get them to live up to the potential you see in them.

I’m Not Saying That You Can’t Help A Partner Improve

person extending hand to person reaching toward them
Photo Credit: Unsplash / Noah Buscher
Photo Credit: Unsplash / Noah Buscher

A good partner will challenge you to be better in many ways and brings out the best in you. However, the difference is in the fact that they love you and want to help you be your best self rather than entering the relationship expecting to mold you into the “person of their dreams.”

You Have To Stop Romanticizing Someone’s Potential

man hanging off tree branch woman is standing on
Photo Credit: Unsplash / Tiraya Adam
Photo Credit: Unsplash / Tiraya Adam

As nice as it is to think about what someone could be, it’s more practical and healthy to focus on who they are in the moment and whether or not you really like that person.

If Someone Is Worth It, Their “Flaws” Are Something You Can Move Past

silhouette of couple embracing in front of sunset
Photo Credit: Unsplash / Abdul Gani
Photo Credit: Unsplash / Abdul Gani

If you really do like someone and there are surface-level things you don’t like about them, you can move past it. If you feel like you really need to change them for your own benefit, they aren’t the one.

Patience Is Key

woman sitting with hands clasped
Photo Credit: Unsplash / Juliet First
Photo Credit: Unsplash / Juliet First

It can almost sound redundant and tired, but the reality is that you really just have to wait until you meet a person who really meets your standards and is a good partner for you.